Recent Posts by Jean-Marc Pascal

Is Existentialism Obsolete?

In a world increasingly divided by religious faiths, existentialist philosophy, and its message of total human responsibility in a meaningless universe, appears like an obsolete remnant of twentieth-century history. By embracing reality in all its physical, emotional, social and political dimensions, existentialist man is compelled to act in relation to all the various factors which characterise his unique ‘situation’. Time and again, Sartre insists upon the inalienable freedom attached to every single one of our decisions and ultimate actions. At ...

Oligarchy and Democracy in Plato’s Republic (Part 1)

In Books VIII and IX of The Republic, dedicated to imperfect societies, Socrates undertakes a systematic political and psychological survey of the forms of government following the demise of his perfect state, doomed to extinction like all human creations. It is gradually replaced by a new regime, inspired by Sparta’s principles of ‘honour’ and ‘worth’ (or ‘time’ in Ancient Greek), in which war becomes the main preoccupation of rulers chosen among ‘the simpler, hearty types’ instead of the intelligent Guardians ...

Hume’s Sceptical Views of Religion

As an empiricist, Hume believed that all our ideas are originally based on first -hand experience which enables us to grasp the notions of ‘habit, contiguity and association of ideas’. The law of cause and effect is nothing but the psychological interpretation of a sequence of events. For instance, the repeated experience of the conjunction of flames and heat creates an association of ideas, which leads to the idea of ‘heat’: 'All our ideas are nothing but copies of our ...

On the sources of political authority

Authority without expressed consent is nothing short of autocratic power or as the Ancients called it, tyranny. On the other hand, to preside over a politically educated, active citizenry is true democracy. If authority is the ultimate justification for exercising power, sovereignty remains the very foundation of its legitimacy. It is in the name of popular sovereignty that revolutions erupted in America, France and Russia. The very moment the legitimacy of a political leader is undermined, authority soon erodes to ...

Descartes on the dangers of false opinion

On the onset of his quest for pure and truthful knowledge, René Descartes decides to ‘overthrow’ all his former opinions since the latter may be built on sandy foundations. However, for fear of finding himself in a mental no man’s land, the philosopher sets for himself the rules of a ‘provisional morality’, the first being ‘to obey the laws and customs of my country’, a precept immediately followed by the injunction: ‘holding constantly to the religion in which, by God’s ...

Russell’s World of Universals

In chapter 9 of his ‘Problems of Philosophy’, Bertrand Russell tackles the nature of universals and their role in our acquisition of knowledge. He first observes that contrary to proper names, like John or London, they are represented in substantives or nouns, adjectives, prepositions and verbs. No sentence can be construed without the necessary presence of at least one word denoting a universal, which explains why ‘all truths involve universals, and all knowledge of truths involves acquaintance with universals.’ Philosophers have ...

In praise of ‘necessary and wonderful science’

For the past forty years, Richard Dawkins has proved a formidable controversialist and his latest collection of essays, lectures and articles, published under the title ‘Science in the Soul’, confirms his central place and influence in the ongoing debate between religion and science, or shall we say, between emotions and reason. Dawkins always had many detractors who see in his lifelong defence of the Darwinian heritage, a rabid attack on deeply felt beliefs in holy religious texts. As an evolutionary ...

The contiguous worlds of Philosophy and Science

In an article published on June 1 2017 in the ‘Times Literary Supplement’, David Papineau addresses the question: ‘Is philosophy simply harder than science?’ Described as ‘the route to truth’, philosophy is described not only as the handmaiden of science but as its original foundation since all scientific theories originate from some form of philosophical position, such as, for instance, ancient natural thinkers like Democritus, Epicurus or Lucretius. Through their denial of any divine intervention in the universe, these ancient ...

Philosophy in Western Movies

The summer break should be an opportunity to get away from academic books and maybe indulge in the discovery of inspiring novels. But what about films? Twentieth-century philosophers have, on the whole, neglected what the French call ‘le septième art’ as very few thinkers critically studied the moving image, with the exceptions of Gilles Deleuze (‘Cinéma’) or Jean Baudrillard who deconstructed the hypnotic power of images in ‘Simulacra and Simulation’. But what of the young Sartre, who declared himself an ...

Russell on the elusive knowledge of the Self

In ‘The Problems of Philosophy’ (1912), Bertrand Russell pays tribute to the French philosopher, René Descartes, for performing ‘ great service to philosophy’ by introducing a rational method of doubt in the search for truthful knowledge. He doesn’t identify any apparent difficulty in the Cartesian assumption that everything outside my own thoughts, feelings snd sensations, could be a mere fantasy. However, he brings his own realist interpretation to bear on the argument, when he comments that, despite the logical possibility ...

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